A registered blind man ordered to undergo a “horrendous and demeaning” disability benefit reassessment by the government was sent printed forms he was unable to read. Martin Corr, who lost his sight after contracting an infection when he was 11 days old, was told his health would be re-examined as part of plans to transfer all Disability Living Allowance claimants to the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
“I have had my whole life to learn to love the situation I am in – but it can be a very scary experience.”
Martin, who works as a probation officer, was offered an at-home assessment by a nurse from Capita – a private company which determines on behalf of the government whether claimants should receive benefits – before part of his claim was rejected. “I didn’t even have to get out of my chair for the assessment,” he said.
“She came armed with a laptop and set of tick-box questions which were very clearly designed to filter people out of the system. “I was not asked to demonstrate how easily I could do day-to-day tasks, or read or write.
“The most astonishing thing, which I found out when I later appealed the decision, was that the assessor had noted my white stick, and noted that I said I used it – but did not put it down as a aide. “It was incredible. If I carried out assessments as woeful as that in my line of work, I would rightly find myself in capability.”
After a lengthy 11-month appeal process, supported by the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Martin was awarded his full benefit entitlement. “I was lucky in that I had a relatively decent income, a stable home life and the capacity to fight the decision.
“But there is no way some RNIB service users would survive this. The process is horrendous and demeaning, and it is a lamentable statement on our society today.”
Martin wants to see a change in government policy which would prevent every DLA claimant from undergoing reassessment. He added: “They could easily weed out lots of applications of the paperwork stage, including mine, as I had a letter from my consultant confirmed I have been blind my whole life.
“The clear intention is to make it difficult enough to exclude as many people as possible. “It’s a long application process and people just give up. If I’d have been on a fixed low income, we’d have been destitute.”
His story came to light as the DWP select committee published a damning report claiming changes to disability benefits systems have damaged public trust and cost taxpayers thousands in appeal tribunal fees.
The committee, chaired by Labour MP Frank Field, has received swathes of “shocking and moving” evidence on the impact of the introduction of PIP and Employment Support Allowance, and wants reassessment sessions to be recorded in future, so vital evidence cannot be omitted.
“Government cannot, must not, fail to recognise the unprecedented response the committee had to this inquiry, remarkable for the consistency and clarity of themes that emerged through thousands of individual accounts,” Field said. “No- one should have any doubt the process needs urgent change.
“The cost of providing a record of the assessment is surely nothing compared to the benefits of restoring trust. Those benefits should include far fewer decisions going to appeal – and being overturned there – at considerable legal expense to taxpayers.” He added DWP secretary Esther McVey should consider bringing the assessment process ‘in house’, rather than out-sourcing to private firms like Atos and Capita – the competencies of whom have been called into question.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said: “This report provides yet more damning evidence that these assessment processes are not fit for purpose and that trust in the system has been completely undermined under this government.
“Instead of supporting people, the process is often dehumanising, inaccurate and worsens existing health conditions.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Assessments work for the majority of people, with 83% of ESA claimants and 76% of PIP claimants telling us that they’re happy with their overall experience.
“However, our aim has to be that every person feels they are treated fairly, with respect and dignity.
“We are committed to continuously improving the experience of our claimants, that is why we’ve commissioned five independent reviews of the Work Capability Assessment – accepting over 100 recommendations – and two independent reviews of PIP assessments.
“We continue to work closely with our providers to ensure people receive high quality assessments, and are exploring options around recordings to promote greater transparency and trust.”